May is Mental Health Month, and it is more important than ever to be talking about mental health. In recent years, evidence has underscored what many of us already know: mental health is essential to overall health, and mental illness is common and treatable. Recovery is possible!
Even with our optimism about evidence-based treatments and practices, increasing awareness about mental health, and reductions in stigma for seeking help for mental health and substance use disorders, there are also reasons for concern. This is especially true for children and adolescents. We know that rates of anxiety and depression are rising. Youth experience complex pressures and access to care in the earliest stages of problems can be difficult. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an alarming report about the 33 percent increase in the national suicide rate over the past two decades. This increase spanned almost all age categories and was visible in almost every state. In Georgia, the suicide rate increased by 16 percent, and suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for youth and young adults.
DBHDD is collaborating with many partners to address these issues head-on. We offer technical assistance and training to clinicians, educators, and law enforcement personnel and facilitate local community prevention and response efforts all around the state. We have a great deal of information available on the DBHDD website, including public service announcements, and a compelling set of videos of youth speaking about their personal experiences. We want to share a message of hope and provide assurance that help is available.
We take great pride in three aspects of Georgia’s safety-net response to the suicide crisis present in our state. First is the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL), our 24/7 free and confidential hotline that links callers with licensed clinicians who can provide crisis and routine access to information and support.
In February, I joined Governor Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp to announce the launch of the MyGCAL app for Apple and Android devices. This unique app is designed to reach teens by placing a direct connection to GCAL right at their fingertips. Please take a moment to download the app now and share it with someone you know. These are the simple actions that can save lives.
The second thing to know this that we have tremendous support elected officials throughout the state. Governor Kemp and members of the General Assembly invested an additional $8.4 million dollars into the DBHDD budget to support the expansion of Apex, our school-based mental health program. In our fourth year, we are in approximately 400 schools enhancing access to services and building vital partnerships between schools, mental health providers, and members of the local community.
Finally, as the state’s behavioral health authority, we take responsibility to study what is happening in our network in order to deploy thoughtful quality improvement initiatives and to make wise investments in prevention, education, and service delivery. In addition to our participation in the state’s Child Fatality Review Committee, we have also taken a deep dive into our own performance data. We have now completed our inaugural report of trends and patterns in suicide deaths in our service delivery system. We reviewed FY 2017 data in order to assist DBHDD and our providers in the prevention and treatment of certain risk factors. While this subject is difficult, the analysis is absolutely essential to progress. You can access this important report here.
Mental Health Month reminds us that our work is important, serious, and lifesaving. It is great to be in a state where there is a political will to channel resources to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable Georgians. Thank you for doing that work with us. Needs still exist, and we simply cannot let up.
Please join me this Thursday, May 9, to celebrate Children’s Mental Health Day at the Capitol. We will be celebrating our progress and lifting our voices in honor of youth with mental health needs. This fight belongs to all of us!
Commissioner, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities